You turn on the radio and don’t hear what you want to hear. What do you do? Sure, okay – but what happens when you hit the internet and go to clubs and still don’t hear what you want to hear?

Jeremy Widerman, Jon Harvey, Brandon Bliss and Steve Kiely – known collectively as Monster Truck – chose to make the music themselves.  “We were filling a hole for ourselves,” says Widerman. “It wasn’t about trying to fill a niche.”

Yet fill a niche they have – both on their record label (the successful indie Dine Alone), and for music fans across the country. From their first enthusiastic rehearsal to this very day, the Truck has been on a steadily upward trajectory.  The band spends most of the summer touring the globe and performing at major festivals across the country.

Monster Truck has a streamlined, instinct-based songwriting process that excludes endless tinkering.  “If we aren’t able to bring a song from seed to completion in a day, we usually abandon it,” says Widerman, citing punk as an influence on the group’s process, even if it isn’t audible in its music. “We find the songs that come together on their own, without a lot of effort,  are the best. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. Make it catchy, get a hook, and just beat the shit out of that hook.”

“If we aren’t able to bring a song from seed to completion in a day, we usually abandon it.” – Jeremy Widerman

Those hooks are what elevate the Truck above other riff-rockers. A cool, face-pummeling riff is essential, but if that’s all you have, the effects will wear off as soon as the bruises heal. Monster Truck songs have staying power because of what the rest of the band bring to the table once the guitar chords are in place.

“When Harv [Jon Harvey] starts singing on top of a new song, it’s literally like someone turns on a light,” says Widerman. “That’s when I know the song’s going to work.”

The combination of Bliss’ organ and Harvey’s voice creates something akin to a southern-fried Soundgarden; it’s familiar, but defies direct comparison to any one artist.  They sound like something you used to love, yet at the same time, there’s no nostalgia in their music. Meat and potatoes rock ‘n’roll may have been overdone over the decades, but that’s precisely the problem – it’s often overdone, overcooked, dry and tasteless. The Truck, on the other hand, serve up something tastier, and people have responded by taking second helpings.

“I never expected it would be embraced to the full by music fans around the country,” says Widerman.  “Our fans are die-hard crazy, and it’s so fun to play for them.  It makes our job the best.”

Track Record

  • Monster Truck formed in 2009 as a side-project to their other “more serious” bands (The Reason, Saint Alvia)
  • “Sweet Mountain River” was used as a soundtrack to Blue Jays in-game highlights on TSN
  • They won the CASBY Award for Favourite New Artist in 2012

Discography:  Monster Truck (EP , 2010), The Brown EP (2011), Furiosity (2013) SOCAN members since 2010 (Harvey, Kiely), 2007 (Bliss, Widerman)

Guillaume Arsenault, the star of the 2001 Petite-Vallée song festival, released his first album, the rock-rooted Guillaume & l’Arbre), a year later, and followed up in 2006 with the folkier, more intricate Le Rang des Îles. His 2009 release, the clever Géophonik, was a mixture of sophisticated arrangements and ingeniously blended electronic and folk sounds. His latest offering, the self-produced Oasis station-service, came out last September after an unusually long hiatus for the artist from Baie-des-Chaleurs in the Gaspé Peninsula.

“As a creator, you can’t force things to happen,” he says. “All you can do is condition yourself to welcome inspiration. I had planned to move in many directions from the word go, and I actively explored new avenues everywhere I turned. This also included new songwriting challenges, writing and composing in unfamiliar ways. This is one of the reasons why this latest album was so long in coming. Another reason was that some of the musicians I was working with were located in Montreal while others lived in the Gaspé Peninsula,” the 37-year-old artist explains.

An adventuresome creator

Resulting from multiple songwriting sessions, the 12 selections of Arsenault’s latest album are replete with colourful lyrical imagery and performed in a warm, yet detached voice through dusty twang-guitar riffs and Morricone-esque grooves – a significant stretch for the Bonaventure-born artist. “I joined some musicians in Montreal and we played jam sessions, recording ourselves as we went along,” he says. “On my way back home on the train, I would listen to all that stuff and set aside the best improvised sections to use them later as songwriting material. What came out of this was a distinctive sound. I fell in love with a baritone electric guitar with a sound that brought together the slow-moving melodies and the more nervous side of electronics. In some way, I wanted to create movie-like songs reminiscent of Sergio Leone’s films or [rock singer-songwriter] Fred Fortin’s early work. It was a personal challenge, and the result is much more melodic. My goal always is to get so deeply involved in the creative process that I no longer have to worry about doing things wrong.” 

“I see the horizon as a soul shaper, and I try to catch images in mid-air wherever I go.”

A veteran theatre, documentary and web music composer, Arsenault has been calling himself a full-time musician since 2009, and has since hosted numerous songwriting workshops in elementary and secondary schools as well as the Petite-Vallée Songwriting Camp. A seasoned traveller, he’s spent a considerable amount of time out West over the past few years, and was deeply moved by a Southern road trip he once took: “I hitchhiked across the U.S. and Mexico, and came back home without a single photograph or concrete reminder of my journey. I still cherish these memories, and they inform my songwriting to this day. I realize the word ‘horizon’ keeps reoccurring in my lyrics. I see the horizon as a soul shaper, and I try to catch images in mid-air wherever I go. If I were living in a large city like Montreal, I would be writing about concrete, but when I look away from my house right now, all I see is farmer’s fields, trees and bales of hay. This is where my inspiration is coming from,” the trained cabinetmaker-turned-songwriter reveals.

Working differently

As he began hosting songwriting workshops around 2002, Arsenault had to get to the root of his own personal creative process. “Once I was able to see how I was going about things, I had no desire to repeat the same process over and over,” he says. “That brought me to work differently over the years. The starting point, for me, always is a musical ambiance of some sort. The next thing is the blending of words and music – first the striking images, then the rest of the lyrics. Before this last album, I often fussed for a long time before adopting specific phrases or images because I was  bent on depicting exactly how I felt and expressing precisely what I wanted to say, with the result that I was throwing away a lot of interesting stuff. I got rid of that approach with Oasis station-service, and it’s been a relief.”

Now caught up in a whirlwind of activity, Guillaume Arsenault continues to collect new sounds for his research and creation project on the Gaspé soundscape (his “Sound Tourism” project) while performing live shows, composing theatre music, writing a play and touring local secondary schools. Far from having exhausted his materials, this all-around creator sees the songwriter as a witness to the world: “You can talk about yourself, of course, but there is a way to do that. It’s the ‘show me, don’t tell me’ kind of approach. And I feel I still have much to show people. This is a good sign for whatever comes next.”

As a fifth and sixth grade music teacher and a composer of works in a number of genres including stage music (he’s the brother of theatre director Martine Beaulne), Vincent Beaulne dreamed of forming a blues band for quite some time. “The problem was that bluesmen of my age were in too bad a shape and few and far between, so I decided simply to start a band with friends. I wanted to create original blues songs, and these men were willing to back me up in my project. They were all professional musicians – not blues artists as such, but buddies. That’s probably why we’ve been able to stick together for the past ten years,” the fiftysomething musician recalls enthusiastically.

Led by Beaulne on voice and guitars, Blues Delight now includes Laurent Trudel (voice, guitars, harmonica and violin), Dave Turner (alto and baritone saxophone), Gilles Schetagne (drums) and Marco Desgagné (bass). The quintet’s first foray into recording, the cheerful Rock Island Line album (2007), was followed in 2009 with Open All Night and, earlier this year, Working On It, another quality blues collection produced by band member Laurent Trudel and serving an amazingly vital fare including the blazing “Bad Girl” (a song about a Fender Stratocaster guitar), slower paced selections (“Let’s Go Downtown”), country music sounding pieces (“Outlaw”), slide guitar songs (“Bad Wind”) and demonic instrumental pieces (“Dirty Riff”).

“We’re not reinventing the wheel, obviously. All we can do is improve ourselves musically. On this new album, I believe our sound is much neater. We’re more confident and play better together. One song, “Ride the Sky,” is more representative of what I had in mind. I wanted to create a controlled jam effect with an intense one-chord song with everyone playing without stepping on anybody’s feet. Our previous mileage together as musicians makes it possible for us to do this kind of thing today,” claims Beaulne, who also serves as artistic director for the Montreal International Jazz Festival’s Blues Camp.

While Robert Langlois has remained the ensemble’s main lyricist from the early days, Beaulne eventually got over his fear of writing, contributing a number of lyrics to the band’s repertoire over the last few years. For the band’s leader, working with Langlois has turned into a very pleasant experience. “We’re old friends, brothers in arms,” he explains. “Writing with him has become easy and fun. We found techniques that are working for us. My favourite one is to write music on fully written lyrics. But this can also work the other way around. Sometimes I’ll come up with a musical verse or chorus before the music has been written – I’ll send this to Robert, and he’ll get started on the lyrics. He’ll show me a few words and I’ll be able to complete the song. Of course, the other musicians in the band all add their grain of salt too.”

“Because I have a job, I can afford to make blues music on my own terms.” – Vincent Beaulne

Turning to the comparatively weak state of the music industry in general and of the blues scene in particular, Beaulne remains realistic. “To survive, we have to keep moving and be on the road, but as we all have regular jobs, touring is out of the question. Besides, we’re past that age, and not interested. Because I have a job, I can afford to make blues music on my own terms. As producer of our recordings, I look after all financial matters. Blues music has a long history of being creatively rich, but financially poor. Right now, the scene is not doing well and can only improve. I am in awe of guys like Bob Walsh and Guy Bélanger who are making music on a full-time basis. They are the true bluesmen, the outlaws, the rebels. They command respect.”

As old troupers (Beaulne and Trudel have been playing together for the past 42 years), the five musicians have developed symbiotic relationships that produce exceptional results whenever Blues Delight takes to the stage. As Beaulne explains, “a show is a playground, a meeting place, a medium of exchange, and above all a great deal of fun. In my mind, I see music like life itself, like a great big circle. When all goes well, we all get an opportunity to meet in the centre. That’s how it goes when we give a show. I love to improvise, to get people to sing along, to talk to the audience as equals. The blues experience is something like what you feel among your own family. There is no gulf between the audience and the musicians. The personality of each individual takes over.”

Projects are piling up as the band prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2014 with a series of shows scheduled from February, a compilation album release in May and participations in blues festivals through the summer. Following the less active winter period, Blues Delight is hoping to visit Edmunston and to conquer new territories (such as Ottawa) in the early spring. Although the Quebec market remains paramount in his sights, Beaulne is still planning to take his blues music to Chicago and Europe once he reaches retirement age. “Nothing’s impossible,” he insists. “When you’ve been playing with the same musicians for a long time, you’re playing for the right reasons. We’re old sailors. When the waves misbehave, we know what to do. Getting old playing music is a cool thing that becomes even more fun and more intense as time goes by. Gone are the egos and anxieties. We are a happy bunch of fools. And, in case you were wondering – no, you don’t necessarily get wiser with time!